The balance of the past three years of FRG (Guatemalan Republican Front) party control over the government is negative. Headed by President Alfonso Portillo and President of Congress EfraÃn RÃos Montt, the deterioration is due to Guatemala’s economic, political, moral and social crises; government corruption; the ongoing confrontation between the government and CACIF (the Coordinating Committee of Commercial, Agricultural, Industrial, and Financial Associations); the failure to fulfill the Peace Accords; the government’s support of the reorganization of counterinsurgency structures such as the former PACs (Civil Defense Patrols); and the resurgence of political violence carried out by clandestine groups.
The climate throughout the country is polarized, confrontational, violent, and full of despair. This environment has invaded most sectors of the population, which has been struck by hunger and an unjust system characterized by the privileges of a minority oligarchy that resists change.
Added to all of that, there has been a shocking increase in drug trafficking, while the quantity of drugs confiscated has decreased and the anti-narcotics police have stolen two-thirds of the cocaine that was seized.
All of this has accelerated the process of political decomposition and led to a greater level of violence. It has exposed clandestine groups, which act with the government’s protection and are linked to drug and human trafficking, along with money laundering.
Pressure from the United States has led the government to dismiss several high-level Interior Department functionaries. The government has also closed the Department of Anti-Narcotics Operations (DOAN) and created a small intelligence agency called the Service for Analysis and Anti-Narcotics Information (SAIA); forcibly retired several military officials with alleged links to drug trafficking; and dismissed several high-level government employees working in places with a high amount of drug trafficking, such as the ports.
The government’s financial gamble stems from the public sale of $US 700 million worth of “eurobonds”. Civil society, CACIF, and the international community oppose the sale of the eurobonds because of who the profits would benefit and because the sales would lead to a 20% increase in the external debt. Profits from the bonds will finance the electoral campaign of the FRG and “compensate” the former members of the PACs. However, the possibility of profiting from this endeavor decreases day by day because, among other reasons, the U.S. has “decertified” Guatemala due to its inability to counter drug trafficking. The decertification has diminished the government ‘s credibility on an international level.
Other worrisome elements are Guatemala’s insecurity; an increased number of prison riots; and general chaos. The inability of the State to confront this situation is obvious. However, from the start, the FRG government has also deliberately attempted to militarize public security and exhaust the civil security institutions.
In the midst of this crisis, the FRG’s political agenda finds itself completely weakened. The approval rating of their leaders is not higher than 8%, according to several opinion polls. Furthermore, they perpetually find themselves in confrontations with civil society groups such as doctors, farmers, and most recently teachers, which will set the stage for the FRG’s political debacle in the upcoming elections.
However, the most concerning aspect of this increasingly conflictive situation, provoked by horrible political mismanagement, is that it could cause an unwanted inability to govern the country. This is why it is important that civil society stay alert and ready for the time when they are eventually faced with attempts to break the government’s institutions.
The army has suffered political manipulation due to Presidential appointments, which were made under pressure from clandestine groups. Another influence has been the U.S.’s response to what they saw as questionable appointments, especially those related to functionaries involved in the fight against drug trafficking. These pressures have led to many appointments and dismissals of military leaders.
An important theme is the military high command. Currently Enrique RÃos Sosa-son of the FRG’s Secretary General, EfraÃn RÃos Montt-is the Division General of the General Staff of the National Defense. In order to avoid further political erosion within the military, he should retire. But, there is a possibility that he will be appointed Secretary of Defense, which in an electoral year would be another mistake on the part of the government, as it would increase anti-FRG sentiment among the armed forces.
Additionally, the government continues to make special fund transfers to the Defense Department (MDN) to the detriment of important social needs. The government also continues to assign tasks to the military that are not part of its mandate, such as the distribution of fertilizer and internal security.
The MDN has also attempted to gain control of the National Maritime Authority-a goal that was made clear in a recent proposition presented by FRG Congressman Baudilio Hichos. He also asked Congress to give the army power and prerogative to extend the militarization of the State, including control over fiscal activities, health, immigration, and more.
The general crisis in the political party system has grown. There is not adequate electoral law and parties do not have enough financing to function. The political parties have not fulfilled a true intermediary relationship between society and the State. It is necessary to strengthen the political party system.
The Political Parties: The National Advancement Party (PAN) is one of the political arms of CACIF. According to the polls, they are in first place. They try to play off of the discontent with the FRG. To the general population, the PAN represents the divided right; has a history of privatizing resources with disastrous results for the general public; and shows serious signs of corruption.
The PAN has already announced their presidential candidate, which was decided after primary elections to solve an internal dispute. Oscar Berger won with the support of the economically powerful. The party’s Secretary General, Leonel LÃ³pez Rodas, continues to dispute appointments and other seats of power, but everything indicates that he will loose control of the party due to economic pressures and pressure from Alvaro ArzÃº’s group. ArzÃº ‘s group re-entered the scene by snatching up the Unionist Party from Gustavo Porras and handing it over to Fritz GarcÃa-Gallont with the intention of fusing both parties.
The Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) is weak, divided, and worn out due to an endless confrontation with CACIF. They are paying a big political and social price for Congress’ approval of an increase in the Value Added Tax (IVA) and for the increase in violence, corruption, and social despair.
FRG leaders have proposed promoting EfraÃn RÃos Montt as their presidential candidate, in hopes they will be able to strengthen their deteriorating party. (However, since RÃos Montt is constitutionally prohibited from running for president-because he came to power through a coup in the early 1980′s-the FRG may simply be fronting him until they come up with another candidate.) In May, the FRG will have to make real electoral decisions. At that time, Rios Montt himself will probably nominate a candidate from outside the internal circles of the party, or one of the so-called “portillistas” (supporters of President Portillo) such as the Foreign Relations Minister, Edgar GutiÃ©rrez; the academic, Eduardo Suger CofiÃ±o; the Attorney General, Carlos David de LeÃ³n Argueta; the president of the Guatemalan Bank (BANGUAT), Lizardo Sosa; or the former president of the Supreme Court of Justice, JosÃ© Rodil Peralta. At the congressional level, Pedro Pablo Palma Lau will be run in Congress during the elections, to bear some of the electoral burden and thereby somewhat protect the FRG. (Pedro Pablo Palma Lau’s reputation will make him a good face-person for the FRG.) For his part, RÃos Montt will maintain some high-level position in order to guarantee his immunity. (This position will guarantee his control within the party and government, and provide immunity in the genocide case that has been launched against him).
Currently the FRG does not have more than an 8% approval rating, and they haven’t even started their electoral campaign yet, during which the situation could actually worsen. A great electoral defeat for the FRG is probable.
The National Revolutionary Union of Guatemala (URNG) chose Rodrigo Asturias and Pablo Ceto as their duo-presidential candidate. This was proposed by their National Executive Committee (CEN) and Political Council, and endorsed by their support base. The local candidates and district representatives are decided through primary elections. They are currently the second largest party in the country, but their candidates are not positioned at the same level.
The URNG is made up of 13,000 members, and is organized in more than 190 municipalities, with more than 100 political teams. When Jorge Ismael Soto left the group, a reported 160 members resigned from the party.
The Patriot Party (PP) is led by Otto PÃ©rez Molina. They are now a legally registered political party and are planning to run Harris Whitbeck as their presidential candidate. Whitbeck is a former member, and now enemy, of the FRG. He is connected to part of the army and is politically connected to the serranistas. It is said that he receives financial support from the businessman Dionisio GutiÃ©rrez, who is setting himself up to also be a presidential candidate. PÃ©rez Molina used to be a leader of the Guatemalan Civil Movement, financed by GutiÃ©rrez.
The National Unity for Hope (UNE) is a political group led by Ãlvaro Colom, who is also the group’s Secretary General and presidential candidate. They were able to obtain their legal registration as a political party. Colom is well known in the country after running for president in 1999 with the URNG. He is currently in second place in the polls, but it becomes more evident every day that he his moving closer to the right, which has diminished his strength. His organization has not defined itself politically or ideologically. The breakdown of the Guatemalan Civic Movement and Oscar Berger’s return to the PAN, have left the UNE divided, as those two events led to the departure of many of their principle supporters.
The DIA Party has the misfortune of being known as the leftist party with a rightest presidential candidate, which will ultimately cancel itself out. Their candidate is the President of the Galileo University and military colonel, Eduardo Suger Confino. A confrontation with his first running mate, Ricardo Bueso, caused Bueso to transfer to the Guatemalan Christian Democracy (DCG) party to run as their presidential candidate.
The Union Party has finished the process of becoming a legal registered political party. Gustavo Porras and his supporters formed the group after they left the PAN. In a recent national assembly, Porras was dismissed and the capitol’s mayor, Fritz GarcÃa-Gallot, who represents the ideologies of former president Ãlvaro ArzÃº, was put in charge. It bears all the political weight of the defeated rightest party since the privatizations and corruption of the PAN years. Everything indicates that changes within the party will bring about an alliance with the PAN.
The Democratic Union is a political group with roots in the center-left. They ran an environmentalist in 1999 and currently are part of the center-right. Led by businessman Rodolfo Paiz Andrade, the Secretary of Finance with the Guatemalan Christian Democracy (DCG) government. Paiz remains their presidential candidate after some costly, questionable, and not very well-attended primary elections. He is one of the candidates of the business class. He already has some presence in the written press and visible propaganda.
The Guatemalan Christian Democracy (DCG). Their Secretary General is former president Marco Vinicio Cerezo ArÃ©valo. Due to internal problems, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) held a hearing for their suspension. The DCG is a divided political force that is facing extinction. The most recent confrontation happened between Cerezo and JosÃ© Fernando Lobo DubÃ³n; Cerezo came away with control of the party. (Lobo DubÃ³n was assassinated in January 2003). The DCG will nominate businessman Ricardo Bueso as their presidential candidate.
The Progressive Liberator Party (PLP). Their Secretary General is Asisclo Valladares Molina. This is a ticket without a party, and it is close to losing their official registration. Valladares is generally allied with the right and is currently the ambassador to the Vatican. He has been allied with the FRG in past elections. Among his supporters is Guillermo Salazar Santizo, president of the Foundation for Economic Investigation (FIE).
The Greens. Their Secretary General and presidential candidate is Rodolfo Rosales GarcÃa-Salas. It is a small party without any national presence that is based on an ecological platform. The Greens made a good showing in the 1999 elections with their candidate JosÃ© Asturias Rudeke, but he is no longer involved with the party.
Nationalist Unity. Their Secretary General is Jorge Canale Nanne. He has some close connections with members of the government, such as Rokael Cardona, as well as people closely connected with the Social-Democrat Convergence Party. It is in talks with the Union Party and the Alliance for a New Nation.
The Reformist Movement is also called the Guatemalan Labor Party (PLG). Their Secretary General is Hugo Enrique Argueta Figuero and the party is currently in the process of being suspended. Regardless, Jorge Briz Abularach, president of the Chamber of Congress, has essentially bought his position as the party’s candidate.
National Solidarity Party. Their Secretary General is Bertha Olimpia Rivas LÃ³pez. The figure behind this party is Ricardo Castillo Sinibaldi, the president of the executive board of the Institute for Workers Recreation (IRTRA). He is also the party’s presidential candidate. He has connections with the DCG party-an alliance between the two parties is possible.
The Participative Social Democracy (DSP). Their Secretary General is Federico Arnoldo Zea Acuna. It has only been a political party since January 2003.
The Real National Union (UNA). Their Secretary General is Gerardo Villeda Guerra. They were recently registered as the 16th political party. CACIF This traditional economic power has headed opposition to the government due to threats they have received to themselves and their interests. A group of businessmen is participating in a campaign to destabilize the government by systematically using printed propaganda materials. They are also pushing a campaign to discredit the government, based on corruption.
The CACIF has chosen Oscar Berger’s PAN, to retake political power. They led an important economic campaign to ensure that Berger won the PAN primaries. However, it still doesn’t have control of the candidates and the party itself. Therefore it is expected that CACIF will continue to do what it can to eliminate LÃ³pez Rodas’ influence, while at the same time bring on board Alvaro ArzÃº’s economic/political group to present a united economic power to the elections.
The United States
There has been a change in U.S. policy toward the current administration, which is evident in several concrete actions, such as the newly appointed Ambassador; strong statements from functionaries Otto Reich, Paul Simons, and Rogelio Guevara; the decertification of Guatemala because the country was not cooperating in the fight against drug trafficking; and others.
The U.S. continues to have strategic and structural power over Guatemala. The U.S. government has taken advantage of the political situation since September 11, 2001 to pursue an agenda of security over everything else, including the development of a new National Security Doctrine. Specifically, it has imposed its fight against terror and has increased control over migration.
The economic expansion of the United States is clear through its proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA); regional trade projects like the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA); and Plan Puebla PanamÃ¡ (PPP). All of these initiatives intend to accomplish a basic strategy: consolidate the market, to ensure the economic-political power of the U.S. in Latin America, over that of the European countries and Japan.
The great dependency that the Guatemalan government has on the United States has led Portillo to adopt the most reactionary position on international politics than any Guatemalan government in the past decades. He has cosponsored a resolution against Cuba and voted against the presidency of Libya at the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva and voted against the creation of a Palestinian state-all actions were in line with the United States. It has recently moved closer to Cuba, a stance motivated by the U.S.’s decision to decertify Guatemala and the upcoming electoral campaigns. However, it is probable that the government will adopt the same reactionary position in future decisions.
The International Community
Due to the actions and sentiments shown by the international community in reviewing the Guatemalan government’s commitments during the Consultative Group meeting, Guatemala has made advancements in its peace agenda and has planned several multi-sector dialogue roundtables, which are backed by the Organization of American States (OAS) and the UN Office in Guatemala. It is necessary that these roundtables are suitable for civil society and provide effective spaces and permanent dialogue between society and the state. (The Consultative Groups consists of governments who have donated money to support the fulfillment of the Peace Accords. It meets regularly to review the peace process and the government’s commitments.)
The Dialogue Group-which is comprised of government representatives from Canada, the United States, Sweden, Spain, Germany, Holland, Norway, and Japan, in addition to representatives from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the UN Office in Guatemala-has supported the actions of the human rights movements and those organizations who have received threats from clandestine groups that act with impunity in the country.
The UN Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) has had an important role in the current political situation, positioning themselves as monitor of the most important commitments. It has also strengthened organizations and helped civil society achieve advances in fulfillment of the Peace Accords, before closing at the end of the year.
There are still several important commitments that have not been fulfilled, including those regarding human rights, justice, and security. It would be best for the multi-sector roundtables that are supposed to start functioning to address these matters, in order to summarize civil society’s experiences and proposals, and so that the organizations can present a unified position at the next Consultative Group meeting.
The international community still needs to develop concrete plans to evaluate the promises made in the Peace Accords and at the Consultative Group meeting.
Civil Society Civil society has before it a challenge, as well as an opportunity, as this space for change opens, to be able to re-address the Peace Accords with the support of the international community. It is important to participate, organize, and construct a political alternative to the current government, which benefits the right, the military and the traditional oligarchy.
The land conflicts continue while the campesino movement demonstrates a high-level of organization and mobilization. Marches and land occupations taking place throughout the country are demanding solutions to a serious and complex situation. But the magnitude of their demands conflicts with the attitude of the land owners and authorities, which see repression and forced displacement as the only ways to confront the demands. The Peace Accords have adequate proposals to resolve this situation, but the government has not fulfilled them.
The teachers’ movement demonstrates organization, spirit, coordination, and unity. They have confronted the government’s obstinate attitude and their struggle has strengthened civil organization and created a base for growth in the union movement.
Conclusions Civil society is facing important challenges. The first is to take advantage of the pressure the international community is placing on Guatemala to hold the next Consultative Group meeting in May, in order to achieve change, re-address the fulfillment of fundamental points on the peace agenda. Using civil pressure and participation from the international community could cause a change in the government’s agenda. Civil society must also organize the population around their sector demands, with a long-term vision of creating a new nation.
At this point in Guatemala’s history, organization and participation are an obligation.
The other challenge is to construct a viable alternative, in line with the Peace Accords, that can offer Guatemalans something different than the furtherance of the FRG’s military right and CACIF’s corporate right. This is the challenge for those who believe in a different Guatemala; a country that does not exclude anyone, based on a real democracy that is participative and just.